Indulge with me as I tell you the tale of my most miserable afternoon as a Stoke City fan to date.
It’s matchday. I’ve driven back from Loughborough in the ice after moving out of my university accommodation for the Christmas break and I’ve arrived back in Stoke ready to brace the elements to go and watch my team play. I knew it was a big game today, with both teams threatened with relegation and an ex-Potters hero coming back to his old hunting ground. It’s been difficult to get excited about Stoke City in recent weeks, this time though I was pumped. Little did I know that this game was to be one of the most emotionally demanding I’d ever attended.
It wasn’t a great start to the afternoon, me and my dad had left home and arrived in Fenton without the tickets. We were worried that we’d miss the start of the game, with that and the fact that travelling to the stadium was being slowed down by the icy walkways. It turns out the delay to our adventure wasn’t going to cost us: a power surge at the bet365 Stadium meant that kick off was delayed until by an hour and we’d be locked outside the stadium in the freezing cold. It’s fair to say the fans were even more fired up, if nothing else.
We now have joint worse ‘goals against’ tally in the Premier League, having conceded 26 goals in 13 matches. Crystal Palace continued the awful stat of an average conceding rate at two goals per game; and yet I find myself scratching my head and thinking has it really only been 26?
The Premier League this season has been full of goals, this is partly due to the ‘big teams’ turning up this year, and we certainly felt that against Manchester City. However, the new craze that has swept the Premier League has left most teams now playing wing backs in a back three or back five, depending on how defensive or offensive the team has set up . Mark Hughes set this formation up early on in pre-season and made it clear that this was the formation he wanted to start the season with. The big question now is, why has this formation failed so badly? Or is it a work in progress?
A week ago, Stoke lost 7-2 to a spellbinding Manchester City side. Despite it being Stoke’s heaviest defeat under Mark Hughes, the fans’ response after the game was relatively calm. Probably partially due to the sheer ruthlessness of the Citizens and partially due the string of heavy Stoke defeats over the last couple of seasons prior to this game. The Stoke players and manager demanded a reaction against Bournemouth; after a very difficult opening set of fixtures, this game was certainly a chance for Stoke’s season to kickstart. Stoke proceeded to lose to Bournemouth 2-1 at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday, and it appears those in the club who were prompting a ‘reaction’ wore no trousers.
This defeat saw Stoke plunge into the bottom three after nine games, a quarter of a season, played. Admittedly, it was a fate that was predicted at the start of the season – Stoke have already faced five of last season’s top seven – and it’s a situation that Stoke have plenty of time to turn around. Despite this, Potters fans’ frustrations have peaked. Talks of the club regressing, a growing sense of apathy and evidence of time, money and talent being wasted means that fans’ hostility – to the club and each other – is at its highest in years.
This question seems to be the strongest thread preventing the trap door from falling under Mark Hughes. Initially it appears to be a valid question, the market is not currently swarming with clear choices to come in and take control of Stoke. But with some deeper thought there is a wealth of targets that Mr. Coates can pursue should he finally lose patience with a manager blaming the wind for defeats. I’ve decided to put these options into a few different categories and will pick a most likely option from each to discuss in a little bit more detail.
Following a colourless season last year, being handed a tough start to the 2017/18 campaign and having spent the least amount of money in the Premier League: many fans and pundits outside of Stoke-on-Trent have tipped the Potters to struggle this season. Robbie Savage is one of those pundits: predicting that Premier League clubs will overtake Stoke in his column in The Mirror. Having played the game and spent his time following his playing days as a pundit, Robbie probably knows a hell of a lot more on the workings of football than I do. However, I can’t help but feel that some of Savage’s views are a little short-sighted when it comes to his disapproval of Stoke City’s ambition and that the clubs’s hierarchy are doing a better job than he, and other media outlets, are making out.
It’s fair to say that, on the whole, spending by Premier League clubs have inflated to ludicrous levels. Big money spent by Europe’s elite is compounding with the Premier League’s riches and transfer fees are inflating more than ever, leaving transfer records smashed day after day. Having only bought one player permanently for a transfer fee (£7m for Bruno Martins Indi), Stoke are one of the few exceptions to the rule and Savage says that Mark Hughes should feel frustrated that his squad hasn’t benefitted from similar levels of spending. He says that Saido Berahino and Peter Crouch will not be enough to bring in the amount of goals needed to survive in the Premier League and that Stoke will pay the price for not investing in a proven hitman.
As we all know, The Stoke City Transfer policy at the moment seems to be a bit of a shambles. Not only have we let the passion go out of the club (see my previous blog on my thoughts of that) but all we have signed is an ageing midfielder and an un-experienced left back that nobody knows if he can challenge Eric for the first team (God I hope he can).
Now, I have heard some people moaning on the BearPit page that Mark Hughes doesn’t know what he is doing, or that Coates is a tight ass and doesn’t want to splash the cash. One thing that I haven’t heard is that Tony Scholes who is basically the man to bring in the players doesn’t have the skills to do so. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts of that in the comments.
Today’s the day Arnautovic has left and there is a worry that he is taking with him most of the attacking force that Stoke had, but now is the time for the board to show faith in youth and spend the money from this transfer wisely.
The fee that Stoke are receiving for the Austrian is best spent elsewhere. Stoke will most likely have the whole 24 million figure to be able to spend, as there is no need to pay off Arnie’s contract due to his transfer request, yet still this figure is not a large enough sum to be able to truly replace Arnautovic.
In the current bloated transfer market, where Championship players are commanding double figure fees, it is unlikely Stoke will only be able to use the money for the Arnie deal in finding his replacement. Yes, there have been rumours of a deal around 18 million Euros for Gremio’s Luan, but this is still a risk as there is no guarantee the Brazilian settles into the Premier league quickly.
After 271 appearances, 62 goals, 27 assists, one red card, two own goals (both in the same game), an FA Cup final, a European tour, a few broken records, two managers, 20,000 minutes, so many fond memories and almost seven years: Jon Walters has called an end to his Stoke City career. Whether you thought he was a striker or a winger, you thought he had it all or was lacking that ‘something’, you wanted to see him add to his 102 consecutive Premier League starts or just wanted to give the poor man a break; no one can deny that Jon has been an integral part in Stoke’s most successful spell ever. Now named by many Potters as a club legend, Walters had that something which fans resonated with, whether it be micro-scale looking at the football pitch or macro-scale looking at Stoke’s journey: he was there. He was always there.
Walters was signed in the Summer of 2010 by then Stoke manager Tony Pulis from Ipswich Town for £2.75m – which would rise to just over £3m. Jon’s time at the Town ended sourly, after his desire to leave saw him dropped from the team, stripped of the captaincy and told by then manager Roy Keane that he wouldn’t play again for the club. Stoke fended off interest from QPR to bring Walters into the Premier League, with Pulis “looking to bring in more goals, Jon certainly fits the bill”. He was signed alongside club-record signing Kenwyne Jones, Jermaine Pennant, Marc Wilson, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Carlo Nash and Florent Cuvelier.
As a Stokie, living in North Essex, surrounded by Spurs and Arsenal fans, I grew up hearing the same old line every single time someone said, ‘who do you support then?’ My answer of course is that ‘if you cut me open I would bleed red and white’.
The response of ‘ Ha, you like Rugby then’ is the line I was greeted with around 90% of the time.
The turgid football, baffling team selection and 13th placed finish; left many dissatisfied and calling for Hughes’ job. It’s no secret that my current opinion of Mark Hughes is rocky to say the least, no one was a more vocal critic of him on the Bear Pit last season, than myself. But there is nothing that would please me more than being served up a big slice of Humble Pie, that I would happily eat. So, I have decided to help Sparky and come up with a little recipe for said pie.
500g of Exciting Football
The base for this Humble Pie is found in the origins of Mark Hughes’ employment. Sparky’s job, first and foremost, was to get bums on seats. Dropping season ticket sales lost Pulis’ his job and Hughes was tasked with bringing back excitement and filling the, then, Britannia Stadium. Exciting football was the first task, and it was obviously expected that success in the League and cups would follow, but this was always a secondary aim.